Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Taking stock of things

It's been nearly three months since my last update on here, which is a very long time for me to go without writing. If truth be told, there were a couple of abortive attempts to write a post, but for some reason I just found myself being unable to explain what I wanted to say regarding what I've felt and experienced over the past few weeks at med school. This is because, with no exaggerations whatsoever, it has been one of, if not the most, intense and at times overwhelming experiences of my life. It's very hard to take stock of things when you're totally in the thick of it, you don't have the brainspace or hindsight to consider things in an objective and measured way the same way you would if life was proceeding in a slower and more orderly pace - and the one thing these past few months has not been is slow.

So where do I stand currently? Having finished term one of medical school I am now one third of the way through pre-clinical medicine. That's a pretty scary thing to look at written down, it almost suggests that by now I ought to be a fine young clinician-scientist in the making, a suggestion which I feel is just a tad premature at this stage. I have exams in a month and whilst they are formative (i.e. don't count), they're still important for two reasons:

Firstly, habitual perfectionism means that I can't take any exam not seriously, even the ones which don't it's only day 2, but I'm already in revision mode. Admittedly, I'm not taking it to the same extreme as I would for summer exams i.e. 4 hours sleep a night and a diet of Red Bull and whatever's in the library vending machine, but I'm certainly not having a holiday either. And secondly, whilst failing these exams won't see you getting kicked out of med school, it will still lead to an uncomfortable meeting with the Dean and other med school kingfishes, again something I want to avoid. So that's where I am currently, but how did I arrive here? Let's break it down into subheadings:

Feeling overwhelmed

This has been a pretty common feeling for me this term. No matter how well you did in your previous degree, how great you did in your dissertation or however many letters you have after your name, I think most people end up feeling considerably overwhelmed during the first term. There is a lot to learn: I don't think it would be an exaggeration to say I've learnt more in one term here than during all three years of my BSc. I've also forgotten more than I thought possible, something which is producing a degree of alarm as I start revising the notes which I made during the first few weeks ("wow, did I really know this stuff at one point? Why does it seem so unfamiliar now?!")

Practical learning is fun

Social events organised by medical unions and societies generally revolve around getting everyone as pissed as possible. Aside from being a good way to relieve stress (what better way to pretend that that embryology lecture didn't ever happen than drinking til you pass out?), getting pissed is part of the whole settlin' in process. Fair enough, but another good way to become more comfortable with your classmates is to strip off in front of them once a week and take turns to perform practical skills on eachother. Learning clinical skills and examinations has definitely been my favourite thing about this term: it's great fun and helps motivate you during the boringer side of things: just think, if you persevere through embryology, one day you'll get to be a doctor and do this stuff on real patients! (But interestingly enough, everyone keeps suspiciously quiet when asked just how relevant embryology is to the day to day work of most doctors...).

Medicine involves a lot of hoop jumping

I have about as much experience of medicine right now as the comedians on Holby City, but I've already managed to register just how pointless and plain annoying some aspects of this course and job are. For example, having to spend 45 minutes at home filling in worksheets on health and safety law (as requested by one of our teaching hospitals), having to do two library tutorials despite having four years experience of using university libraries, or best of all, having to participate in an online discussion group with allied health professionals just so the med school can tick some box which states that we have an appreciation of the different roles played by members of the mutlidisciplinary team (well, we might do, but it certainly won't be due to those three weeks of utter pointlessness). Still, I'm also acutely aware that this time a year ago I was monkeying around in a lab, so this is really just a minor annoyance as opposed to something I'm genuinely upset about.

The future

This kinda relates to point number 1, i.e. feeling overwhelmed. This term has, objectively speaking, been pretty laid back. We've had a lot of nice n' fluffy modules like public health, medical sociology, etc and usually one whole day off a week. That's been pretty sweet. Next term will be a whole new reality. The fluffy modules will be replaced by hardcore systems modules i.e. actual medical sciences, and there won't be any days off. By all accounts (speaking to students in the year above, people repeating, etc), next term is not really much of a cakewalk. And the exams in the summer actually do count i.e. if you screw up and don't pass the resit, you'd better hope that your old lab manager still likes you enough to give you your old job back. The ominous and persistent worry in my mind is that if I found this term the hell am I going to cope with next term? And let's not even talk about term 3, having seen the vaguely shellshocked looks on the 2nd years' faces last week, I'm just pretending it doesn't exist.


I'm very happy to be doing medicine, but there's no denying that it's one helluva learning curve. And damn it feels good to get this stuff off my chest, I think I'll do some more writing again soon. Words of wisdom on how to feel less overwhelmed are very much appreciated too. Hope everyone else enjoyed their first term back!


  1. Wow, sounds like you have having a very busy time!

    I hope that you get more used to the crazy amount of information - I am sure you are capable of learning it, just hang in there :)

    As for having to jump through hoops... that never goes away!

    Cheers for the update :)

  2. Loved your blog post - I am in the same situation myself just nearing the end of my first term. I couldn't agree more with many of your points especially about the 'hoop jumping' - I will never get back those hours of my life spent on how to use a library search engine.

  3. So glad you are having a nice time. I think we all feel very stressed with the huge amount of work. I am myself very nervous about formatives in January because even though they 'don't count' I still want to do well.

    Best of luck!

    Enjoy the holidays!

  4. At last! I thought something had happened to you! ( your link from your previous blog has there a reason for this?)

    Sounds like very hard work! Are you un-grumpy yet ?

  5. Hey guys and girls, good to hear from you all, it's been a while!

    @IO: Hanging in there, just about...progress is being made slowly but surely with revision, I just hope it's going to be enough.

    @wonderingmentsofahopefulmedic: Welcome, don't think I'd ever seen you comment on one of my posts before :) Yes, it's pointless but at least it's over now...I'm just wondering which other hoops the med school want us to jump through next term :P

    @areyousure?: Best of luck to you's nice to have the safety net of a formative, but like you I also want to do well.

    @Anonymous: I'm certainly un-grumpy about my course (mostly), but I'll always be grumpy about life on general :P

  6. Hi. I'm in the same position as you, having just finished Semester 1, year 1, of a GEM. I can totally relate to a lot of the things you've said, especially of feeling overwhelmed. Looking at the amount of things the uni expect us to know by the end of Phase 1 is really daunting. I think that these next 4 years are going to be a lot of hard work! I'm sure that with your biomed background though that your exams will go well. Good luck!